SAMUEL GOES TO BETHLEHEM
We continue on this morning with the book of 1 Samuel. Two weeks ago we looked at God’s call to Samuel to be the next judge and leader of Israel. Last week, we saw that the people wanted to replace the judges with a king to lead them so that they could be just like the other nations. They chose Saul who looked like a great choice because he a a big man and a fierce warrior which is exactly what they people thought they needed. But ultimately, he enslaved the people and was not a great king which just goes to show that we need to be careful what we ask for because we might just get it.
Today, we come to 1 Samuel 16. This is the story about the anointing of the next king of Israel. Saul, the king whom the people chose, has proven to be a disaster. So the next king is one that God is going to choose. And as we will discover, God will choose David. The story begins at 1 Samuel 16:1 (NIV) where we read, “The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.'” Okay, so this is where God lays it on the line. He has rejected Saul as king and is sending Samuel to anoint a new king. This is clear.
It’s also clear that Samuel is not excited about this mission. Listen to how he responds in 1 Samuel 16:2-3 (NIV): “But Samuel said, ‘How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.’ The Lord said, ‘Take a heifer with you and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.” Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.'” Samuel has a legitimate concern. Saul is a powerful king and like all powerful people, he wants to keep his power. But if Saul finds out what Samuel is doing, he won’t be too happy. And if you look at the route that Samuel has to take, he has to travel from his home in Ramah, through Saul’s home at Gibeah to get to Bethlehem. So, there is no way that he can sneak his way past Saul. To get to Bethlehem, Samuel has to go right through the lion’s den.
But God has a solution. He tells Samuel that he actually has two purposes in going to Bethlehem. The real reason might be to anoint a new king but the other reason, that will be obvious to everyone, is to make a sacrifice to the Lord. So basically, God has given Samuel an alibi. “You Samuel are the spiritual leader of Israel and as such you can make a sacrifice anywhere you want. So take a heifer to Bethlehem to cover your tracks.” This is exactly what Samuel does.
Let’s carry on with 1 Samuel 16:4 (NIV) which says, “Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, ‘Do you come in peace?'” Let me explain this. Remember that Samuel is the undisputed spiritual leader of Israel. Saul might be king but he’s only king because Samuel anointed him. So Samuel is a pretty powerful figure too. To have him enter the gates of your town would be like the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Pope walking through the front doors of the church. Whether or not we’ve happy to see him, I’m pretty sure that all of might ask, “What are you doing here? I thought you were London or Rome or someplace else doing important things. What brings you to Cottam?”
The elders are trying to figure this out. Samuel is a very powerful presence and the town elders want to know why he has come. Has he come in peace? Then all is well and good. But what if he has come because there is a problem? Then the elders have cause to be concerned. What did they do wrong and how will they be punished for it?
But Samuel, sets their minds at ease in 1 Samuel 16:5 (NIV): “Samuel replied, ‘Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.’ Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.” Okay, so now the stage is set. Samuel, has got past Saul. He has calmed the fears of the elders of Bethlehem, invited Jesse’s family to the sacrifice and is now ready to do what he really came to do. And we thought politics in 2018 were complicated.
SAMUEL EXAMINES JESSES’S SONS
Now we move to the actual sacrifice. Jesse’s son, one by one, enter the room and Samuel looks at each of them in turn. 1 Samuel 16:6 (NIV) says, “When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.'” Why did Samuel think that? First of all, because Eliab was the firstborn and back in those days, being the firstborn meant something more that it does today. The firstborn was the one who would inherit the father’s blessing. The firstborn was the one who was entitled to an extra portion of the estate. The first born was the first in line to be the patriarch of the family when the father died. So back then, being the first born was really important. Eliab was Jesse’s firstborn son and even more than that, he was tall and powerful, just what people might expect a king to be.
But what does God say about this? We read that in 1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV): “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'” Apparently Eliab was the kind of king that the people choose when they choose Saul. He was big and strong and totally looked the part of a king. But how did that work out with Saul? Not so well. And how do you suppose it would work out if Eliab were to be king? Probably not so well. Why is that? The answer is right in the verse. It’s because people look at the outward appearance and the outward appearance can lead us astray. But what does God look at? God looks at the heart.
Isn’t that true? Don’t we make judgments about people based on their outward appearance? Sure we do, if we’re going to be honest with ourselves. We even affirm it in our figures of speech. Have you ever heard the expressions, “You only get one chance to make a first impression”? How about, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” We tell people to dress for success, meaning that if they want to get ahead in life, then they need to look the part. You need to have the outward appearance of success.
The reason why Samuel thinks that Eliab is the one is because he looks the part. He looks like a king. But he is not the king because God isn’t looking at his outward appearance. God is looking at his heart. God doesn’t want to know his height or the circumference of his bicep. God doesn’t need to know how fast he can run or how good he is with a sword. God wants to know what’s inside, in his heart. Does he have a king’s heart? Is it big enough to be the king? And most importantly, does he have a heart for the things of God? That’s something that was missing with Saul. Saul had all of the physical attributes that everyone wanted from a king but he lacked a king’s heart. He was too concerned with his own wealthy, power and prosperity to pay attention to the things of God. And that is why God rejected him as king. This next king will have a heart after God. Samuel has to make sure of that.
Eliab, the big strong physical firstborn son, is not the one whom Samuel will anoint as king. And everyone is surprised, no one more that Jesse’s second oldest son Abinadab. He totally expected his older brother to be chosen because that’s what people did back then. He’s up next. 1 Samuel 16:8 (NIV) says, “Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, ‘The Lord has not chosen this one either.'”
Stunned silence. And Jesse must be thinking, “What’s going on here? I presented my first two sons, who are the oldest and the biggest and the strongest but Samuel has not chosen either one of them. What gives? Who’s next? “Shammah, get up here!”
All of a sudden, things are getting interesting because Shammah, in his wildest dreams, never expected to be standing before Samuel but here he is. It’s his turn. 1 Samuel 16:9 (NIV) says “Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, ‘Nor has the Lord chosen this one.’” And it goes on to say, “Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, ‘The Lord has not chosen these.’ So he asked Jesse, ‘Are these all the sons you have?’”
Now everyone is confused. First of all Jesse is confused. He’s had all of his sons pass by Samuel and Samuel has chosen none of them. Jesse’s sons are confused because they have no idea what’s going on and what Samuel wants.
And finally Samuel is confused because God told him that he was to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as king but none of the sons whom Samuel has seen is the right one. And so he looks at Jesse. “Are these all the sons you have?” It’s kind of like, “Didn’t I invite all of your family to this sacrifice? Didn’t I say to bring all of your sons? If none of these sons is the right one that clearly you’re holding out on me Jesse. Is there anything you want to say for yourself?” And I don’t think Samuel would have been particularly gentle about this.
Remember that, next to the king, Samuel is just about the most powerful man in Israel and he has called Jesse up on the carpet. “What part of ‘bring all of your sons to the sacrifice didn’t you understand?”
And so quietly, probably sheepishly and with some fear and trepidation, Jesse answers in 1 Samuel 16:11 (NIV), “There is still the youngest. He is tending the sheep.”
Again, we don’t really understand the significance of this statement because we’re looking at it 3,000 years after it happened. But to put it in context, you have to understand that, back in those days, being a shepherd was just about the lowest form of employment you could get. No one wanted to be a shepherd. They were thought of as dirty, uncouth, uneducated, and good for nothing else. So what does that say about David? It says that his father didn’t think much of him. First of all, he was the youngest son which all by itself put David way down the family pecking order. And it seems that he really wasn’t a very big person, not like his other brothers. In fact, if you remember the story of David and Goliath, when Goliath saw David he despised him because he looked nothing like a worthy opponent and Goliath accused Israel of sending dogs after him. That wasn’t meant to be a compliment.
So David has nothing going for him. He’s the youngest son, he’s short and he’s a filthy shepherd. No wonder Jesse left him out in the field with the sheep. He really wasn’t much good for anything else.
But in 1 Samuel 16:11b-12 (NIV) we read, “Samuel said, ‘Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.’ So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; this is the one.’”
And the looks of dismay must have been everywhere. David is the youngest of all of Jesse’s sons. He isn’t very big but it does say he is handsome. At least he had that going for him. But he is a shepherd, the lowest job on the totem pole and his father thinks so little of him that he didn’t even send a servant to get him when Samuel asked Jesse to bring all of his sons to the sacrifice. And yet, this is the one whom God chooses to be the next king.
The story ends in 1 Samuel 16:13 (NIV) which says, “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.” Samuel’s job done, he did what he had to do, packed up his things and went back home to Ramah. And it says in the Bible that he never saw Saul again.
I want you to notice three things about this story.
The first is that Samuel was open to the leading of the Spirit. God told him to go the Bethlehem, to the family of Jesse where he would find the one whom he was to anoint as king. It meant going through hostile territory, through Saul’s home town of Gibeah to get to Bethlehem. This was a risky move. In fact, it was down right dangerous and if Samuel had his druthers, he’d rather not go at all. But God called him and because he was convinced of this call, Samuel trusted God to get him through.
Here’s what we have to know about Samuel and this is where he relates so well to our lives especially right now when we are looking at important decisions that could have an impact on our ministry for the years to come. Not only was Samuel looking for a king who had a heart for God. Samuel himself had to turn his heart toward God. And that’s what we have to do. I get the fact that we can be nervous about stepping out into the unknown. But God does not always call us to do only easy things. To be sure, sometimes God calls us stick with the tried and true. Like I said last week, change for change’s sake is seldom a good idea. But sometimes God calls us to step out into the unknown and take a risk, not knowing quite how we will get there but trusting God to pave the way for us. That takes a heart for God. It takes understanding what God wants us to do and then stepping out to get it done. That’s the first thing. Samuel was open to the leading of the Holy Spirit and so must we.
The second I want to note is that as soon as Samuel realized that David was the one to be anointed, he acted immediately to anoint him. He didn’t dilly dally around. He didn’t make excuses. He didn’t try to second guess God or his Spirit. He just did it. Here was an opportunity for Samuel to make a difference in the life of the nation and he was not going to let this opportunity pass him by without taking advantage of it.
Too many churches miss opportunities because they hesitate to reach out in faith to do what God is calling them to do. Too many churches would rather insulate themselves from the outside world and withdraw into survival mode because they are afraid to step out in a new direction.
Samuel was afraid of something. He even said so. He was afraid that if Saul found out what he had done, he would kill him – literally – because it was well with Saul’s power to do that. But despite all of that, when he was convinced that this was God’s will, got up and did it.
I think the lesson for us here is that it’s okay to be afraid. It’s not easy to follow God into unknown places. It’s not easy to be risky and walk on paths that might be dangerous. But even on those paths, God is there. God never calls us to be comfortable. God always calls us to be faithful and faithful can sometimes be nerve wracking. The bottom line for us is that if we are convinced that God is calling us to do something, then we need to get at it.
The third and final point to this story for us this morning is this: it was years before David became king. In fact from the time David was the anointed as the next king to the time when he was finally crowned was a span of thirty-two years. Why was that? It’s simply this; David wasn’t yet ready. Samuel anointed a ten or twelve year old boy when he anointed David in front of his father and brothers. He wasn’t ready to be king at ten years old. He had to grow up. He had to mature physically and mentally. He had to learn how to operate in the royal court. He had to learn to be a warrior and a leader. This would all take time but it was time that God provided so that David could learn all of the lessons that he would need to be one of the most influential leaders of his day.
God prepared David and God prepares us. God prepares us every day for what will come tomorrow. That’s important for us to understand because what God is doing through us now is preparing this congregation for where God wants us to be ten, twenty and thirty years down the road. That’s what we often fail to understand. The decisions we make, the ministries we decide to support, how we operate as the Church of Jesus Christ today has a profound influence not just on the Church today but also on the Church of the future. That means that we always need to be looking past the present situation. We aren’t just solving short term problems. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are laying the foundation for the ministry of this congregation for generations to come even though we don’t know where it will take us or our children.
God had a plan and a purpose for Israel and God chose the most unexpected boy to bring the purpose to fulfillment. And God continues to use the most unexpected people to do his will. Why? Because God does not look at the outward appearance. God looks at the heart and sees what is there. My question for you is this: When God looks at your heart, what does he see? I’m sure he sees parts of you that are timid and anxious and afraid to move forward. But he also sees someone who is honestly seeking his will and his way of doing things. And when that happens you could very well be the next unexpected person whom God anoints to do his will in the most unexpected ways.
God has a plan and God has a
purpose for you. And God has a plan and purpose for this congregation. And it’s
not just about today and tomorrow. It’s about the ministry of this church into
the future. It is up to us to lay the foundations upon which future generations
of the faithful will build. So don’t be afraid. God is here and will continue
to work in the most unexpected ways with the most unexpected people to fulfill
his will here on earth.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of All Creation, your Spirit flows around us reminding us of your love and care for even the least of your creatures. We give thanks that you are as close as a prayer. When life seems to be too much to bear, your hand reaches out to us offering hope and help and healing. We give thanks for all of your precious gifts. We are grateful for cool swims after hot days, trails and roads upon which to ride our bikes, early morning fishing trips and refreshing evenings spent on the front porch. We also thank you for the crops that are growing in the field and even now working their way to the harvest.
We thank you for fathers, for those men who raised us and taught us and helped to make us the people we are today. Bless all fathers, O God, and enable them to be the men whom they need to be in this world.
Thank you for the hope that you give to us in the difficult times of life. Regardless of how hopeless or unsolvable our circumstances may appear, you can enter in and change things for the better. Strengthen our faith and help us to believe every hope, every possibility, and every promise that you have made.
We thank you for summer visitors and those who have recently moved to town and are looking for a church home. We think about how motorist, cyclists and pedestrians must sometimes share the same space. Help us, O God, especially with the end of school approaching, to be careful and watchful for one another. Speaking of school, we offer our prayers and support for all of the students, teachers and staff who soon will be entering exam time. May that go well and as smoothly as possible.
We lift up in prayer those of our community and congregation who are sick this week at home or in hospital. We remember Sharon and Larry, Oswald, John, Helen and David and ask for your Healing Spirit to be upon them.
Holy God, we know that all life is
valuable in your sight. We are grateful that your love and compassion are
limitless and unconditional. When we are faced with difficult decisions or
situations, help us to remember that you are always ready to help offering
guidance, strength, patience and wisdom. You provide the example of how we
should treat others. Keep us faithful as you are faithful. In Jesus’ name we
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
June 17, 2018 / Pentecost 3 / Proper 6
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20; Mark 4:26-34; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17
CALL TO WORSHIP
Let us praise the one who lifts us up;
who carries us above our worries
and takes our burdens from our shoulders.
The glory of God is shining around us. Alleluia!
Come, let us worship.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
We come, God of Life, seeking the hope that you make possible this day. Your love surrounds us in ways too numerous to count and too strong for us to comprehend. In that love there is also your challenge to us to daily walk closer to your way. In our worship, we ask for a fresh breath of your Spirit that our lives may be renewed with dreams and visions of a brighter tomorrow. Your Word is life and we call upon that Word to fulfill our deepest yearning. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Blessed Jesus, we thank you for your sacrifice that made it possible for all people to be renewed in their relationship with you. You abolished the barriers that once separated us from your Holy Presence. Forgive us when we, your people, erect walls of conflict that divide ourselves from one another. In the midst of separation, help us to be ministers of your love and healing to all people. Enable our lives to reflect the same forgiving and reconciling Spirit that you have shown towards us. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
In a world of strife and anger, there is a calming Spirit that hovers over the face of the earth. The Spirit of Christ reminds us of the power of God’s amazing forgiveness which is able to overcome the deepest and darkest sins of our lives. When we confess our sins, we are redeemed and made new in the cleansing blood of Jesus.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
What could we give that would adequately convey our need of you? What could we provide that is not already from you? Your generousity is beyond our need. May all of our lives and resources be set aside for the sharing of your Good News. Amen.
died as he lived – with great passion. Go now, and live with that passion. May
our lives and our actions proclaim the Gospel which is for all Creation.